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Dogwood Weekend Alumni Award Winners

April 14, 2024

Each year during Dogwood Weekend we’re proud to honor our alumni, some of whom are returning for reunions after a half-century or more, and others who are experiencing their first few homecomings. No matter the graduation year or era, the King community is filled with kind souls and vibrant characters, and applauding their accomplishments is something we look forward to every spring.

Join us in celebrating the winners of the 2024 Alumni Awards:

Young Alumni Achievement Award

The Young Alumni Achievement Award recognizes those 40 or younger who have made outstanding professional contributions in their field and shown a strong commitment to serving others.

Aaron Hitefield, Ph.D. ’17

Aaron Hitefield, Ph.D. ’17, serves as Assistant Professor of Political Science at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. He holds a bachelor’s degree from King and earned his doctorate in Political Science from the University of Georgia.

Hitefield currently researches and teaches on topics related to American political institutions, electoral politics, parties, and political behavior. He has published several projects over the years with his recent work focusing on federalism, representation in government, and electoral politics, which was published in American Politics Research and The Forum.

In December of 2023, he spent a week in Dubai, UAE, as Whitworth University’s head delegate to the United Nations Climate Change Conference. In recent years, he has also had the opportunity to appear on local news stations in various forms, from election interviews to an on-air election night expert during the 2022 midterm elections.

While a member of the King community, he majored in mathematics and political science, was a member of various student clubs, and served as President of the Student Government Association. He was also the recipient of the Student Leadership Award and the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.

Legacy Award

King is blessed to be a proud tradition for many families. Established in 2009, the Legacy Award recognizes families with multiple generations who have attended King and whose members demonstrate an extraordinary lifetime of service, achievement, and commitment to King’s mission and vision.

Looney Family

The Looney family’s King legacy began in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when brothers Charles and Henry came to campus from their home in Southwest Virginia. Since then, multiple family members have followed in their footsteps, crediting King with not only a firm educational foundation but spiritual formation across generations.

Charles Looney first learned about King from a friend at his church in Oakwood, Virginia, who knew someone who worked at the college. Charles applied and, to his surprise, received a scholarship from King, which he says was the “perfect school for him.”

Charles ’72 and Cindy Geiger ’72 met during their studies. They became resident directors and moved into Liston’s first-floor suite as newlyweds. They invited Henry to stay with them on many occasions, and he quickly acclimated to life at King, rooting for the Tornado men’s basketball team.

Charles and Cindy are now retired and live in Woodlands, Texas, near Houston.

Henry ’80 attended basketball camp at King and was offered a scholarship after his junior year of high school. He started at King in the fall of 1976 on athletic and academic scholarships and met Melinda Musgrove in the spring of 1977. They became engaged the following year and were married in 1978.

As newlyweds, Henry and Melinda lived on campus in a duplex behind the Dining Hall (now the Fine Arts Building). Melinda studied early childhood education while Henry pursued studies in business and education. In the spring of his junior year, Henry started an internship at the United Coal Company (UCC), a job that has continued with the company in its various iterations for more than four decades. Currently, Henry serves as President of United Central, and he and Melinda have four children: Michael ’04, Christine ’07, ’10, Alex, and Andrew.

After graduating King, Michael Looney worked as an admission counselor for King and then enrolled in the MBA program at Wake Forest University in 2007, graduating with an offer to begin work at United Central Industrial Supply. Michael filled various roles within the company before moving into his current position as an Enterprise Business Analyst for United Central’s parent company, SunSource. Michael and his wife, Erin, live in Bristol, Tennessee, and have three beautiful daughters, Elliana, Hannah, and Charlotte.

Christine began her college education at the University of Virginia. While home on break, Christine attended a lecture with Craig McDonald, Ph.D., who invited her to join the inaugural group of honors seminar students. After experiencing the King community, Christine decided to transfer and pursued a double major in Bible & Religion and History/Political Science.

Shortly after graduation, Christine met Nathan Berg ’12. The two were married in 2010, and Nathan began his studies at King shortly after, earning his bachelor’s in Business Administration. He continued on to the London School of Economics, where he graduated with a master’s
in Behavioral Science. Currently, Nathan owns Wallberg Construction, a commercial general contracting and development company headquartered in Abingdon, Virginia.

Christine continued her graduate studies at King, earning a master of Education. She has served as a teacher, lead administrator, and artist for more than 10 years and is currently homeschooling their two children, James and Caroline.

The family is grateful for the generations of faithful instructors at King who patiently taught them and led by example toward cultural transformation in Christ.

Christian Service Award

The Christian Service Award honors alumni of King who have dedicated their lives in full-time service to fulfill the commission of Jesus Christ, as found in the gospels.

The Reverend Dr. William “Bill” Reinhold ’71

Bill Reinhold ’71 was born to PCUSA missionary parents and lived most of his young life in the Belgian Congo. He came to King College at his father’s recommendation because he had admired some of his own Union Seminary classmates who came from King. The area was somewhat familiar because of visits to First Presbyterian, which was one of the school’s supporting churches.

Bill graduated in 1971 with a bachelor of Arts degree in History, and recalls his time at King with great fondness.

“Friends of my parents helped me buy some winter clothes, and I went off to King with my suitcase on the bus,” he said. “It turned out that King was just right for me – small enough that I didn’t fall through the cracks, and with a Christian atmosphere that I was used to. Several of us from King were blessed by the college class at First Presbyterian across the golf course from campus.

“During my time at King, I played soccer, stage-managed some musicals, worked on the yearbook as a photographer, and worked (mostly) in the dining hall. Fletcher Bingham’s father was the bursar then, and I would pick up my student-work check from him. My favorite professor was Tom Peake, and I am still Facebook friends with Ann.”

After graduating from King, Bill received his master’s in Divinity from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. He then served as pastor of First Presbyterian of Appalachia and the Big Stone Gap Presbyterian churches in Virginia. In 1979, Bill and his wife Ginnie (Virginia Smith ‘69) were appointed as missionaries to the Congo/Zaire. Bill was engaged in new church development, leadership training, printing and publishing, and theological education.

After 11 years in Congo/Zaire, the Reinholds were appointed to Jamaica, where Bill assisted in developing a theological seminary that has grown into the International University of the Caribbean. While he was working in Jamaica, Bill earned his doctorate of Ministry from Columbia Seminary and the United Theological College of the West Indies.

The Reinholds returned to the United States after 20 years of missionary service. Since then, Bill has served on the staff of Peaks Presbytery and as pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia. He was then Associate Executive for Mission of the Presbytery of Philadelphia before being named General Presbyter and Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina.

Since his retirement to Bridgewater, Virginia, in 2018, Bill has preached in churches in Shenandoah Presbytery as an occasional supply minister and worked in interim capacities at Augusta Stone Church and Cooks Creek Church in the Harrisonburg, Virginia, area. In his retirement, Bill is also active in the Congo Mission Network of the PC (USA) and their efforts to strengthen the church and schools there. The Reinholds have two children, Robert and Margaret, and three grandchildren.

Volunteer of the Year Award

The Volunteer of the Year Award honors alumni who have committed a significant portion of their time and talents to further the mission of King. An institution the size of King would not be able to function without the faithful efforts of its volunteers.

De Decker ’01

Denise “De” Decker ’01 was born in Warwick, New York, and attended primary and middle school in northeastern Maryland. From age 14-17, she was homeschooled while undergoing chemotherapy and treatment for metastatic bone cancer. She went into remission at 17 and received her high school diploma. Of the dozens of universities and colleges she looked at, only one school took the time to send a representative to meet with her and discuss her goals – King. The school offered her an academic scholarship and the intimate, high-standard, liberal arts community she was looking for.

She fell in love when she walked onto the Oval in the fall of 1996. After a setback at the end of her freshman year, she had to take a year off to receive treatment for a rogue tumor in her lung but was back at it in the fall of 1998.

She graduated in 2001 with a degree in Fine Arts, conferred with honors in independent study. With a concentration in Performing Arts, she was an active member of the Trousdale Guild Players, the King’s Rogues, and Craig MacDonald’s Shakespeare and Greek Tragedy companies. In 2001, she was the co-recipient of the Trousdale Guild Award and still takes great pride in having her name on the plaque that hangs in the Fine Arts Building, along with some of her dearest friends and fellow thespians. She was also very honored to be the yearbook editor (and sole staff member) for the 2000 academic year.

King cracked the introverted shell Decker had built around herself during her years in the hospital and gave her opportunities to be front and center in major productions, course projects, and social activities that a larger university would not have provided. She wasn’t just one of many; she was part of an energetic, supportive community where one-on-one conversations with professors and advisors were the norm, not the exception. There is no doubt in her mind that the environment was responsible for propelling her onto a fantastic career trajectory.

After receiving her degree, Decker moved to Los Angeles, California, and began her career as an Event Professional. For two decades, she planned, designed, and executed world-class red carpet events, movie premieres, celebrity weddings, and awards galas. Her venue, Vibiana, was voted the number one wedding venue in Southern California seven years in a row, and she had the pleasure of working with genuinely phenomenal people, including some exceptional fellow King graduates. At the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, she relocated back to her hometown of Warwick with her fiancé, Colin, and her two beloved cats. They now love spending days off on the Appalachian Trail.

King remains an important part of Decker’s life. She currently serves on the committee that organizes the annual Celebration of the Arts, an event that benefits King University and it’s students in the Arts. “My nearest and dearest friendships are still those formed on campus, and helping to maintain the vitality and identity of King University is of huge importance to me,” she said. “King has given me so much, and I am glad to do all that I can to give back.”

Erin White Fairbanks ’96

Erin White (Fairbanks) ’96 arrived at King College in 1992 to attend a May Term French class with Aspasia Bishara. Afterward, she determined that French was not her favorite despite Madame Bishara’s enthusiasm for her mother tongue. Instead, she chose history and political science with a minor in Spanish as her course of study. During her four years at King, she sang in the choir, acted in two school plays (one directed by Professor Emeritus and force of nature Penny Mattice), and produced illustrations for the Kayseean and Descant.

Fairbanks graduated with a determination to achieve a handful of life goals: seek adventure, immerse herself in other cultures while traveling the world, become a polyglot, get married, have children, and find ways to improve the world around her. To date she speaks English and Spanish, and has three children.

Along her life journey, Fairbanks taught English in Shanghai, earned a master’s in International Development from the University of California San Diego’s Global Policy School, interned with the United Nations Development Program in Guatemala City, interned with Project Concern International in Mexico City, Mexicali, and San Diego, worked on a reporting job on Capitol Hill, and temped in admin positions with the IMF and the World Bank.

When she married her husband at age 32, Fairbanks chose to abandon a policy career and focus on rediscovering and nurturing her creative side, as well as putting all her energy into raising her kids and investing in her neighborhood community.

At 42, she dusted off her paintbrushes and started painting commissioned portraits of dogs and people. During the pandemic, she taught herself the basics of furniture restoration, the art of soap making, and jewelry design. This eventually led to the sale of her creations for her small business, That Weird Chick Studio.

When Brenna Seifried Ruiz, Ph.D. ’99, proposed that they throw an arts fundraiser during Dogwood to bring King Alumni together in 2020, Fairbanks saw it as a great opportunity. She wanted to take all the networking, community building, organizing, and creative skills she’d built up over a lifetime and put them to good use for the community – to improve upon the sense of King being family, the idea of Bristol being home, and to draw more attention to the arts at King through the Celebration of the Arts (COA) event. Erin has been instrumental in the success of the silent auction at the COA that has brought in proceeds for FOTAK (Friends of the Arts at King). She additionally served on the Alumni Advisory Council at King from 2019-2021.

Fairbanks is grateful that the COA event has been so well received and attended. More than that, she has loved working with friends to make them happen.

She can personally attest that pursuing a creative life is pursuing a satisfyingly beautiful life, and the COA planning committee is honored to help King students pursue the same – one fundraiser at a time.

Brenna Seifried Ruiz, Ph.D. ’99

Brenna Seifried Ruiz, Ph.D. ’99 was born in New York, but moved to Spain at the age of 7 with her missionary parents. After returning to the United States, she attended British schools in Madrid and later completed high school in Atlanta, Georgia, where her father was a pastor. One day Brenna had a chance encounter with a King admissions representative who invited her to visit the campus. Despite the dreary fall weather that day, Brenna felt right at home as soon as she stepped on the bricks of the Oval.

Brenna is a 1999 King graduate who majored in English and Fine Arts/Theater. While a student, she founded and directed the independent theater group called King’s Rogues, which was responsible for four productions under the auspices of the venerable Craig McDonald, Ph.D. After graduating from King, she lived in Peru as a volunteer with Scripture Union Peru. Upon returning to Atlanta, she completed her master’s in Applied Linguistics at Georgia State University and, in 2009, accepted a faculty position at the University of Dayton (UD) in Dayton, Ohio, in their Intensive English Program, which prepares international students to be successful in their course of study.

Currently, Brenna serves as Assistant Director for the Global and Intercultural Affairs Center at UD, where she supports student, faculty, and staff programming and education as part of the Global Engagement team, and also teaches courses in the School of Education and Health Sciences as adjunct faculty. She received her doctorate in Educational Leadership in 2022, focusing on DREAMers and migrant/ returnee teacher identity development and language education. Brenna has done research in second language writing, prosodics, and campus internationalization, and is especially interested in linguistically and culturally responsive pedagogy. She also develops and supports interfaith initiatives with campus partners, a part of her job she is particularly passionate about.

In 2018, Brenna reconnected with King, helped organize and direct the King’s Rogues Documentary, and helped bring together a group of alumni who were interested in supporting the arts at their alma mater. The Celebration of the Arts event was born in 2021 because of conversations and research with faculty, staff, and alumni. 2024 will be the third time the committee has held the event, which raises funds to directly support Arts students at King with conference fees, reception arrangements, and guest speakers. Brenna also served on the Alumni Advisory Council at King from 2020-2023.

Brenna lives in Dayton with her four children, two dogs, and a grumpy cat. Her favorite activities usually involve the outdoors and water, lots of books, and urban gardening.

Distinguished Alumni Award

The King University Alumni Office presents the annual Distinguished Alumni Award to alumni who have made worthy contributions in many areas of life, particularly in the areas of the “Three C’s,” which are college, church, and community. This award recognizes alumni who exemplify the values King University upholds: Christian faith, service, career, and scholarship.

Jack Sitgreaves ’64

Jack Sitgreaves ’64 became a successful businessman thanks in large part to his King education.

The economics and business major worked three jobs to earn his way through King, which taught him how to research subjects. He also ran the golf course his senior year, which gave him a great deal of experience in dealing with people.

After graduation, Jack worked at Beecham Laboratories for 26 years, a large multinational pharmaceutical company with domestic and foreign responsibilities. He held numerous roles at Beecham, including Programmer/System Analyst, Production Planning Inventory Control Manager, Special Assistant to the President, Territory Sales Manager, Product Manager, and Divisional Materials Manager. When he discovered the company was being sold, he assembled a team and bought the Bristol plant, selling it six years later for $15 million. He accumulated additional business experience during the process, serving as President and part-owner of RSR Laboratories, a $26 million manufacturing company, and a $5 million pet products company, which produced and developed pet pharmaceuticals.

Following the sale of his businesses, Jack, put his expertise to work starting a chain of retail sports stores selling collegiate merchandise in Tennessee and Georgia.

He has taught business classes at ETSU, Mountain Empire College, and Virginia Highlands College and served as a guest lecturer on entrepreneurship at King University.

During his business career, his responsibilities included inventory control, purchasing, distribution, sales, marketing, materials management, and manufacturing. He also served as a territory sales manager and product manager, developing and instituting market plans for several products which grossed $100 million in sales each.

Jack is adept at computer programming, having designed and programmed several systems to oversee invoicing, inventory control, and MRP functions.

He has served as a Sullivan County Commissioner, Chairman of the Bristol Tennessee Electric Board, Chairman of the Economic Development Board, Chairman of the Salvation Army Board of Directors, and President of the Bristol Lion’s Club.

After retiring, Jack moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he currently resides, to be closer to his children.

Honorary Alumni Award

The Honorary Alumni Award recognizes individuals who, although not King graduates, have made significant contributions to the university through their distinguished record of Christian faith and service. Those honored with this award are forever considered a King University Alumni.

Simeon Pickard, Ph.D.

Simeon Pickard, Ph.D., has been a member of the King University science faculty since 1992. During his more than 30 years of service he has taught numerous courses including General and Organic Chemistry, served as the Chair of the Chemistry Department for more than two decades, and previously served as Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences. He also served as a visiting professor at Hannam University in Taejon, South Korea.

A military veteran, he completed his bachelor and master’s degrees in Chemistry at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and his doctorate
in Organic Chemistry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where his graduate study focused on molecular recognition and stereochemistry under the guidance of H.E. Smith.

Dr. Pickard’s interests include such diverse topics as intelligent design, organic mechanisms, medicinal chemistry, and in his spare time, woodworking. Deeply knowledgeable about scripture, he is active in support of his church, Woodlawn Baptist, serving in the pulpit when needed and often speaking in Chapel at King.

Along with his wife Valerie, he is faithfully supportive of local music education, and for many years has helped Holston View Elementary with arts fundraisers and performances. The Pickards’ three children (Joshua ’10, Jeremiah, and Jonna) all attended King, and they have three grandsons (Beck, Miles, and Rhys).

He has always championed his students, and has been a steady favorite to generations of alumni. He is well known for his ritual of delivering the Vader Test, where he dresses up as a Sith Lord to deliver exams, and for hosting end-of-year cookouts at his home.

Over the years he has had the privilege of mentoring students who have gone on to become doctors, dentists, physical therapists, and Ph.D. chemists, and as he celebrates his upcoming retirement at the close of the 2023-24 academic year, many of Dr. Pickard’s students and colleagues remember him fondly for the prayer that he offers over his classes:

Father, help them to remember all those things they have faithfully studied, and help each one of us remember it is not our performance on this exam, or this class, or even school itself that defines our worth as a person in Your sight, or any other way.

Katherine Vande Brake, Ph.D.

Katherine Vande Brake, Ph.D. – Katie to all who know her – is a mom, grandmother, caregiver, educator, researcher, writer, quilter, and gardener whose presence at King steered the education and experience of generations.

Dr. Vande Brake was raised in a family of educators that included many public school teachers, two principals, and a guidance counselor. She dreamed of being a high school teacher and, after college preparation at Michigan State University, began a 45-year career in education. She taught high school and middle school and finally settled on being a college professor, serving on the faculty of King for 38 years. During her last decade at the school, she was Dean of Arts and Sciences and Dean of Academic Programs before retiring in 2017.

She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Michigan State University in the 1960s. At age 57, while teaching full- time at King, she began working on a Ph.D. at Michigan Technological University in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where she studied Rhetoric and Technical Communication.

Katie’s contributions to King are significant. In the 1980s, she created and then directed an English as a Second Language (ESL) program, where young adults from around the world learned not only English but also how to be successful college students. The ESL program helped to grow King’s strong international student presence and involved the entire community in assessing readiness for regular college work. Likewise, her contributions in helping to shape a robust and rigorous general education core continue to define the high expectations King has for its students today.

As a scholar, Katie published two books based on her Melungeon research: How They Shine (2001), an analysis of Melungeon characters in Appalachian fiction, and Through the Back Door (2009), an examination of how Melungeon descendants obtained school literacy and used their Internet skills to establish identity and differentiate nuanced positions on origins, inclusion, and culture.

Katie currently resides in Harbert, Michigan, enjoying well-deserved retirement.

Maria Whitaker

In the words of Holly Aceves, executive assistant to the president, Maria Whitaker “always puts students first.”

As a primary ambassador of King, Maria has never been one to seek the limelight. She is instead a quiet exemplar of selflessness, consistently supporting King’s students and ensuring that their experience here is paramount. She has generously welcomed a multitude of students, faculty, staff, and trustees of King into her home, loyally attending King functions and making any room shine without pretense or fanfare. Day by day, she models King’s mission statement in what it means to be thoughtful, resourceful and responsible.

“It has been a pleasure working with her, not only in business but getting to know her as a friend,” said Barbara Cross of Metz Culinary Management. “She sincerely cares about people and their families, and we have shared laughter and tears over the years. She has been very supportive of community work and has care and compassion for everyone she meets.”